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U.S. Patent Number 1
Reviewed by Jeff Quick, ©

Format: Game
Genre:   Science Fiction
Released:   August 2001
Review Date:  
RevSF Rating:   8/10 (What Is This?)

Cheapass Games became famous within minutes of inception for a string of clever, quirky board and card games that are inexpensive and fun. If you haven't played one yet, you're really only hurting yourself. Some of these games are clearly better than others, but really, the worst of them is still more fun than another soul-crushing round of Monopoly. Gen Con featured some all-new board games from the thinking man's thrift shop. Here's one of them.

What's The Deal?

U. S. Patent Number 1 is the latest board game from Cheapass Games, designed by James Ernest and Falko Goettsch. The players have all invented time travel, and are racing toward the U. S. Patent Office on opening day in 1790 to get patent number 1 to prove who invented it "first."

Is It Any Good?

USP#1 continues to uphold the Cheapass legacy of fun, short games that come partially disassembled, but can be basically played out of the box. It's a game for 3 to 6 players, and by the time the other 2 to 5 of them have figured out how the board fits together, you'll have skimmed the rules and can start explaining it to them.

Each player is a time travel inventor who is hurtling through time, collecting pieces to complete his or her time machine. Your machine competently jaunts through the various eras represented by board sections. But this achievement alone is not deserving of a patent. You also need four upgrades: a weapon, a shield, a chassis, and a power plant. Each upgrade is represented by a card, and the cards are scattered all over the board in different eras.

When you've managed to travel around and collect a working set of four upgrades (or before you have them, but once you're pretty sure it's gonna come together), you travel to 1790 and get in line at the patent office. If your time machine is fully assembled, operable, and you're actually present when your number is called, you win.

The game is just about as light and quick as I've described it here. Happily, it also has some repeat playability. There's a nice breadth of winning strategies to the game that you won't figure out until you've played a couple of times. You normally don't see that kind of behavior outside of those fancy-shmancy import games, and the various options are fun enough that you'll want to try more than one.

The art is all public domain clip art, which they've done an excellent job of making seem cooler than it really is. You've never seen time machines look so retro. However, the 1900s turn-of-the-century graphic style can be busy. This wouldn't be so bad, but the board and card backs are printed in monochrome green. As face down cards stack up on the board, the field of play starts to blur into a one big green square. About 20 minutes into the game, your eyes will be begging for a break. There's really no way to fix this short of going in with markers and creating your own contrast.

Like all Cheapass games, the box delivers only the basics you need for the game: the rules, the board, the cards. Before you play you need to scrounge up something to represent money, a pawn and a counter for each player, and a few six-sided dice. And like most Cheapass games, the game is a little weird, but not so weird that you couldn't play with your parents or non-gamer S.O.

U. S. Patent is not the very best game Cheapass has ever produced, but it's plenty fun and you'll play it more than once. For a measley US$7.00, it's well worth owning. Or at least worth talking your buddy into buying so you can play when you want.

Jeff Quick is an award-winning game designer and editor. He has written and edited game products for Wizards of the Coast and White Wolf, and served as editor of Polyhedron Magazine, senior editor of Star Wars Gamer, and editor-in-chief of Star Wars Insider. He is currently a freelance writer in Washington state and games editor at www.revolutionsf.com. All of the above is true.

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